Category Archives: Hallow’een

Today is Hallowe’en – day or night

My most recent version of Chamber’s Book of Days [2004] tells us that:
This is All-Hallows Eve, better known as Hallowe’en, when witches fly abroad and ghosts, fairies, evil spirits and other supernatural beings are at their most active.  The traditional beliefs and practices of Hallowe’en may be connected in origin with the rituals performed during the night before Samhain.

The 1864 edition of Chambers said:
Great fun goes on in watching the attempts of the youngster in the pursuit of the swimming fruit, which wriggles from side to side of the tub, and evades all attempts to capture it; whilst the disappointed aspirant is obliged to abandon the chase in favour of another whose turn has now arrived.  The apples provided with stalks are generally caught first, and then comes the tug of war to win those which possess no such appendages.  Some competitors will deftly suck up the apple, if a small one, into their mouths.  Others plunge manfully overhead in pursuit of a particular apple, and having forced it to the bottom of the tub, seize it firmly with their teeth, and emerge, dripping and triumphant, with their prize.

So – what is the ‘real’ story?

The last night of October; Old Year’s Night in the Celtic calendar; was a night of witches and fires that was changed by the Church into the vigil of All Saints’ or Hallowe’en.

‘Teanlas’ or ‘tinley’ fires would glow on northern hills on All Souls’ Eve, symbolising the ascent to heaven of souls in purgatory. It was only the introduction of farming enclosures, when bushes were grubbed up, that put an end to the small ‘tindles’, lighted in the furze of Derbyshire commons.

In one Lancashire field, called Purgatory by the old folk, men stood in a circle to throw forkfuls of burning straw high in the air on the night breeze, and all present fell to their knees praying for the souls of the departed. More prosaically – some farmers maintained that the procedure was useful against weed ‘darnel’.

Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year.  The Celtic day began and ended at sunset so it was traditionally celebrated through the 31st October to 1st November – a time that is about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

That’s it – there’s nothing for me to add apart from just saying:


Tomorrow – 31st October – is Hallowe’en. So – what is that all about?

The origin of the festival is disputed, and there are both pagan and Christian practices that have evolved into what Hallowe’en is like today.  Some believe it originates from the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, meaning ‘Summer’s End’ which celebrated the end of the harvest season.

Gaels believed that it was a time when the walls between our world and the next became thin and porous, allowing spirits to pass through, come back to life on the day and damage their crops. Places were set at the dinner table to appease and welcome the spirits. Gaels would also offer food and drink, and light bonfires to ward off the evil spirits.

The origins of trick or treating and dressing up were in the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland and Wales where people went door-to-door in costume asking for food in exchange for a poem or song. Many dressed up as souls of the dead and were understood to be protecting themselves from the spirits by impersonating them.

The Christian origin of the holiday is that it falls on the days before the feast of All Hallows, which was set in the eighth century to attempt to stamp out pagan celebrations. Christians would honour saints and pray for souls who have not yet reached heaven.

Celts dressed up in white with blackened faces during the festival of Samhain to trick the evil spirits that they believed would be roaming the earth before All Saints’ Day on November 1st.

By the 11th century, this had been adapted by the Church into a tradition called ‘souling’, which is seen as being the origin of trick-or-treating. Children go door-to-door, asking for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of friends and relatives. They went dressed up as angels, demons or saints.  The soul cakes were sweet, with a cross marked on top and when eaten they represented a soul being freed from purgatory.

In the 19th century, souling gave way to guising or mumming, when children would offer songs, poetry and jokes – instead of prayer – in exchange for fruit or money.

We’ll go into a little more detail tomorrow – Hallowe’en day/night itself!  Have a great time.

Thieving spooky tours

The Great Hall was empty apart from 3,000 books – old books – very old books. Through the window the branches of a bare tree drew pictures across the sky. All was quiet.
‘Now listen’ he said quietly, ‘make yourselves familiar with the layout. We have three targets and just a few seconds to get each one.’
He stopped as a guide walked towards them.
‘You gentlemen OK?’
‘Yes thanks’ said Tim, ‘We’re just having a browse.’
‘Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with’ he said as he turned away to ask the same question to another visitor.
‘If only you knew,’ Tim thought to himself.
More tourists came into the room as the three checked on their target items. As they left, the guide caught their eye; ‘Thank you gentlemen’ he said, ‘Take care.’
‘You bet we will’ thought all three.
The half hourly ghost tours round the old house were a godsend to Tim and his two friends.
Pip joined the second tour of the night. The Great Hall was half way round the tour – up the back stairs, through the doors into the dark hall, a two minute spooky story then through the other door and down the corridor. Flickering candles distracted; spooky sounds caused screams and 30 seconds was long enough for the porcelain piece to move from the display to Pip’s pocket.
Chas had just had to time to check all was OK with Pip before he joined his tour. His was the most challenging lift. In daylight it was covered by an alarm. What about on the spooky night? He got to the front of the group as they entered the room and stretched his arm across where they had seen the alarm on their recce. There was silence. It was not active.
He let the rest of the group pass. As Pip had told him – a hooded figure rose at the back of the room with a crack of lightning and a roll of thunder. Distracting screams rent the air – and the targeted piece relocated to Chas’s pocket.
Two down, one to go.
Tim waited until the last but one tour of the night. As they began the circuit he became aware of more ‘large’ men than on the other tours he had watched depart.
‘Co-incidence or warning? We’ll see,’ he thought.
As the tour progressed he became conscious that, as they entered each room, at least one of the ‘large’ men was next to him. Once or twice they made contact with him – a firm nudge coinciding with a screaming spook scaring the rest.
As they went into the next room – the last but one of the tour – Tim tripped over the feet of one of the nudgers. It unbalanced the ‘nudger’ while Tim stumbled forward and collided with two or three of the other customers.
They all ended up in a heap on the floor. Someone turned on the lights – and one of the ‘large’ men picked Tim up by the back of his jacket. ‘I’ve been watching you; you did that on purpose.’
‘What are you on about,’ Tim responded, in a loud voice, ‘It was you – you clumsy oaf that tripped me. You and your other buddies have been a real pain all the way round this tour. I’m surprised I even managed to get this far before being knocked over by one of you.’
The ‘nudgers’ were not ready for that outburst, and the rest of the group instinctively seemed to back Tim.
Tim stood up: ‘I assume we have now finished and, if you don’t mind, I shall go and find my friends and go home.’ With that he rubbed his coat straight and left – leaving behind some annoyed customers and confused ‘nudgers’.
The man at the exit wished Tim and ‘good night’ as he left.
Pip and Chas were waiting for him with the car engine running quietly. Tim climbed in the back and they slowly drove away into the darkness.
It was half an hour later that two of the ‘nudgers’ discovered their wallets missing and three days before the house found two small but rather valuable pieces of porcelain were no longer where they should be.

Tim, Pip and Chas?

Well they reverted to their real names, shared the wallet contents, shredded the wallets and achieved a more than respectable price for the porcelain.

All I can say is ‘Watch out for them next Hallow’een’.

Spooky tours can be expensive.